Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the latest developments from Juarez, Mexico.
EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Mexican officials on Thursday reported the capture and death of fugitive Mexicles gang leader Ernesto Alfredo Piñon de la Cruz, aka “El Neto,” during a shootout in Central Juarez.
The Chihuahua Attorney General’s Office said the fugitive suffered bullet wounds during the arrest. The AG’s Office later confirmed that Pinon had died from his injuries.
A Juarez newspaper published leaked photos of Piñon’s body lying in the back of a white pickup smeared with blood. The image shows his face up with his hands cuffed behind his back. The photo was apparently taken down later.
Mexican authorities blame Piñon for the violent New Year’s Day escape from Cereso-3 state prison in Juarez that left 10 state security officers and seven inmates dead. Two additional state police officers were killed the next day in a shootout with alleged gang members as they sought “El Neto” and the other 29 inmates that escaped on Jan. 1.
Chihuahua state police located the lead fugitive in a house in Juarez’s Los Aztecas neighborhood in the pre-dawn hours of Thursday.
“The capture of Ernesto Piñon took place after an exchange of gunfire in a house, from where a vehicle fled to a gas station, where it crashed. There, (Piñon) fired at police and was critically wounded and later died” as he was being taken to a police station, the Attorney General’s Office said in a statement hours after the fact.
Police said they seized an armored BMW vehicle, eight rifles and five bulletproof vests.
Alleged Mexicles gang members shortly after the arrest of their leader set fire to a convenience store and several vehicles in retaliation. Chihuahua state officials said no more fires have been set since 1:38 a.m. on Thursday. Still, additional police officers have been assigned to the Medical Examiner’s Office in Juarez and to Cereso-3 prison.
Chihuahua Deputy Attorney General Jesus Manuel Carrasco said the shootout took place around 12:30 a.m. Thursday. In a Thursday afternoon news conference, he explained “El Neto” was fatally wounded by police but authorities decided to transport him to a police station rather than to a hospital to prevent the hospital from becoming a target for the Mexicles.
He said paramedics were ready to treat the wounded suspect at the station, but he was dead on arrival.
Chihuahua Attorney General Roberto Fierro said a vehicle driven by the gang leader’s body guard fled during the shooting and has not been located. State officials confirmed that a second escapee, Isaac Jesus Rojas Ruiz, was recaptured on Thursday afternoon. He was serving a sentence for illegal possession of firearms. Officials did not say if Rojas was a member of the Mexicles.